Hello everyone! My name is Laurel Donaldson, and I’m a sophomore majoring in Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences. Apart from studying, I spend much of my time participating as a clarinet player in Purdue’s All-American Marching Band (AAMB). This year was especially significant for us because we were invited to be in the leading band in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade this Thanksgiving! The excitement hasn’t faded at all, even though it happened almost two weeks ago…
We began our journey by loading up the buses at Elliot Hall of Music on the Monday evening before Thanksgiving. In total, we numbered about 450 – made up of the 373 bandsmen and auxiliaries plus the staff, their families, and our “groupies” (family members of the band). We took up 9 full charter buses, plus a truck for the big equipment, which includes the Big Bass Drum. And off we went!
After driving through the night, (which was an adventure in itself – have YOU ever tried to sleep on a bus full of mischievous trombone players?) we arrived in New York on Tuesday morning. We went straight to see the Statue of Liberty, where we took up almost an entire ferry to get to the island! My favorite part of this excursion was that my band service fraternity, Kappa Kappa Psi, actually held a chapter meeting right next to Lady Liberty herself!
Our next stop was Chinatown and Little Italy for a meal, then check-in at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Manhattan. It was such a beautiful hotel – and it was completely decked out for Christmas! That night, my roommates and I went to Broadway to see the musical Billy Elliot, and we even got to meet the star of the show afterwards!
The next morning, we rehearsed in the hotel. Yes, IN the hotel. The ballrooms were big enough to house all 373 of us – we even practiced our marching drill routine! We might have given the other hotel residents a nice wake-up call… But who wouldn’t want to be woken up by “Hail Purdue” in the morning?
The rest of the day was set aside for sightseeing on our own. My group of friends and I decided to cover as much of the city as possible in the short amount of time we had. We took the subway to a macaroni and cheese restaurant, Central Park, a cheesecake bakery, Bryant Park, F.A.O. Schwartz Toy Store, Tiffany’s Jewelry Store, and the Rockefeller Center. Typical of any true AAMB member, we were sure to make a “Block P” wherever we went, like at the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park, on an Etch-A-Sketch in the Disney Store, and on the huge Jumbotron in Times Square. My friends and I even ate our New York cheesecake in the shape of a “Block P”!
As our day in New York turned into night, we all began thinking about what the parade was going to be like. At 1:00 AM on Thursday morning, our alarms went off to begin getting ready in uniform for our practice in front of Macy’s. We loaded up at 2:00 AM, and by 3:00 AM, the AAMB was marching in front of the Macy’s Department Store to practice. Apparently, 3:00 AM is the least busy time in New York, and therefore it’s easier to block streets, making it the ideal time to practice marching band. Who knew?
After a short power nap on the buses following the practice, we received a hot breakfast of courtesy of the nearest Applebee’s (just try to imagine 400 people invading Applebee’s at 5 in the morning…), and then it was off to the parade site!
As we stepped off, I can remember thinking to myself, “I want to remember EVERYTHING.” And the experience was spectacular! I’m from a very small town, and I had never seen so many people all in the same place in my entire life. Buildings were packed on every floor, everyone was taking pictures, and every time we did our famous AAMB dances in the parade marching, the crowd cheered like crazy! They especially liked our BBD (Big Bass Drum) – I think we made a pretty big impression on New York City! After 2.8 miles of marching through the streets of New York, we reached our destination at Macy’s. We had 75 seconds to perform on camera, and it flew by! We played Leonard Bernstein’s “New York, New York” then marched away to “Hail Purdue” of course! We didn’t even have time to be nervous –all of our intense rehearsing had paid off. The performance was the best we had ever done it! Success!
I went back later and watched the televised coverage of the parade, and I was blown away by how the TV coverage turned out. There’s something pretty cool about watching the AAMB perform on NBC on the Macy’s star then listening to the strains of “Hail Purdue” as the Grand Marshal of the parade came through with the police escort! It truly makes me proud to be a member of the Purdue All-American Marching band and a student of Purdue University.
I think the best part about being in the band wasn’t our trip to New York. Even being in the Macy’s parade itself hasn’t been the most rewarding experience. As amazing as this trip was, the best part is that I’m a part of a “band family.” Coming to Purdue, I didn’t know anyone. I thought I was going to be on my own. But as soon as I got to campus and started band camp, I had found my niche with the band. My band friends are some of the most genuine people I’ve ever met, and they have proven themselves to be friends that are going to last a lifetime. I would encourage students to find their place at Purdue. My experience at college would be completely different if I hadn’t joined the band, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. There are so many organizations at Purdue to join – find where your passion is and get involved! Take it from me; it’s the best way to do this college thing.
If you missed our performance at Macy’s, check it out on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iP6L2kA3NZY
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